2011 Texas Tech Integrated Scholar
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering;
Whitacre College of Engineering
"I love research. I love finding new information. I can't wait for data to come off the machine so I can go see what it tells me. But I also really like teaching as well. Especially in smaller classes where I can really get to know the students and there's dialogue instead of a lecture."
What is your research objective/interest(s)?
While my specific research interests are quite diverse, ranging from sustainable water recycling for extraterrestrial habitation to the fate and origin of perchlorate in the environment, in general, my interests have always been in understanding the processes that impact contaminants in order to better protect and remediate our environment.
How do you feel your research impacts the globe?
Space exploration is rapidly becoming an international rather than national endeavor given the large costs associated with human space exploration. If humankind is to continue manned exploration of our solar system, then just as on Earth, we must develop more sustainable technologies and systems for water processing. While on Earth, water supply is becoming a limiting resource, in space, water supply is one of the main limitations. Our work is contributing to the development of these next generation sustainable water recycling systems that will enable both manned space exploration but may also play important roles in maintaining adequate water supplies terrestrially as well. Perchlorate as a contaminant of concern is currently only of interest in the U.S. However, the most interesting questions are likely not its role as a contaminant but rather fundamental scientific questions concerning its origin, distribution, role in microbial evolution, and even how it might enable life on Mars. My group’s research has incorporated study sites around the world, (e.g. Antarctica, China, Chile, Namibia) including ice cores, ancient groundwater, and salt deposits (>1 million years old). Our work is helping to clarify atmospheric reactions that impact O3 stability, the role of lightening in atmospheric chemistry, and even peripherally the evolution of aerobic respiration.
Where do you get your inspiration?
This is a hard question as it continually varies. But in general my inspiration is just another face of what I find interesting. I am fascinated by unanswered questions. When confronted by a mystery or unexplained issue in an area which I can at least pretend to be an expert, I do. I would like to say I am driven by a need to make things better, and while I am certainly happy for this to be a goal of my research, my inspiration is driven by curiosity.
What type(s) of service projects do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy many kinds of activities. Certainly I enjoy those that allow me to work with students in a non class setting, for instance, as a advisor to individuals or student groups. I also enjoy those that allow me to contribute back to my peers, such as professional organizations or organizing conferences, and those that allow me to expand my own interests, which include service on editorial boards and as an editor.
What are you currently working on?
We are currently trying to understand the origin of the stable isotope composition in perchlorate around the world and over time as well, and are expanding our research to include the origin of other less-studied oxyanions such as chlorate and iodate. We also are currently operating a new full-scale, biologically based reactor for the pretreatment of a space habitation waste stream. Finally, we are starting to look at new ways to mitigate the impact of oil spills on salt marshes and shorelines of the Gulf Coast or similar ecosystems.
What advice do you have for new faculty members on balancing the components of an integrated scholar into their careers (academics, research, and service)?
I am not sure that I have much helpful generic advice, but I do think it is important to stay focused on activities that will have an impact in whatever area you are working (service, teaching, research) and to not sweat the small stuff.
I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana. I attended Rhodes College, a small liberal arts school where I majored in Biology. I then pursued my M.S. and Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering at Louisiana State University.
Ph.D., Environmental Engineering, Louisiana State University, 1996;
M.S., Environmental Engineering, Louisiana State University, 1993;
B.S., Biology, Rhodes College, 1990.